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China threatens military force on taiwan { March 8 2005 }

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China steps up pressure on Taiwan
By Mure Dickie in Beijing and Kathrin Hille in Taipei
Published: March 8 2005 20:32 | Last updated: March 8 2005 20:32

China will next week enshrine in law its threat to use military force against Taiwan if the island moves toward formal independence.

But Beijing tried to soften the impact by insisting that “non-peaceful means” would be used only as a “last resort”.

Wang Zhaoguo, a senior official of the National People's Congress, on Tuesday said an anti- secession law to be passed by the parliament was aimed at promoting peaceful reunification, even though it offers legal authorisation for war.

Taiwan condemned the law as a “vicious and brutal” attempt to deny its people freedom of choice and to destroy regional peace, saying it would give the Chinese military “a blank cheque to invade Taiwan”.

Beijing has yet to make public any draft of the anti-secession law, but on Tuesday gave details of its content in an official “explanation” issued to NPC delegates.

A draft of the law, obtained by the Financial Times from a scholar in cross-Strait relations late on Tuesday, broadly reflected the contents given by Mr Wang but contained slightly tougher language in some details.

Mr Wang said that under the law, the state “shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures” if Taiwanese independence forces “under any name or by any means” cause Taiwan's secession; if “major incidents entailing Taiwan's secession” should occur, or in case “possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted”. The vaguely-worded conditions mean any final decision about the use of force will remain in the hands of China's top political leaders, who have long backed their claim to sovereignty over Taiwan with the threat of war.

However, some politicians in Taiwan are concerned that enshrining the threat in law could strengthen the hands of hardliners in future policy debates. While the law highlights the dangers of a military confrontation in the Taiwan Strait, Beijing's decision to stress its commitment to peaceful reunification is likely to reassure observers who had been concerned that the legislation would fuel tensions.

The official explanation of the law stressed that “non-peaceful means” would be used only as a last resort if efforts for peaceful reunification “proved futile”.

Indeed, the potential causes of war stated on Tuesday actually appear more limited than those Beijing has previously outlined. In 2000, for example, China said that it might use force if Taipei refused to engage in talks on reunification. Taiwan government officials said China had taken the concerns of the island and the international community into account.

The NPC will vote on the law on Monday, but its docile character means passage is certain.

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